Becoming a parent is life-changing, and you experience every emotion – the highs, lows, and everything in-between. If you’ve become a new parent over the last 2 years, you may have also experienced a lack of support, isolation, and worries about your baby’s health. All these factors can impact the wellbeing of new parents.

An analysis into new parents’ searching habits by Bupa UK Insurance has found a sharp rise in searches for postpartum mental health conditions – including postpartum anxiety – in late 2021.

  • 350% more searches over the last 12 months for ‘have I got postnatal depression’ on Google
  • 143% more people searched on Google for ‘intrusive thoughts postpartum’
  • 100% increase in Google searches for ‘signs of postpartum anxiety’

It’s natural to worry after the birth of your little one, but sometimes it’s something more. If you’re experiencing a significant feeling of worry, dread or racing thoughts, you may have postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety may increase as a response to real stressors – whether it’s the health of the new baby, finances, or balancing a new dynamic in the relationship with your partner.

Here’s everything you need to know about postpartum anxiety, according to Bupa’s Clinical Lead for Mental Health – Glenys Jackson.

Postpartum anxiety is more than the ‘baby blues’

It’s very common to feel overwhelmed, tearful and low for a few days after your baby is born, which is known as the ‘baby blues’. It usually starts within three to 10 days after your baby is born and eases after a relatively short time, without the need for treatment or additional support.

Postpartum anxiety is more intense and lasts longer than baby blues. It can affect your wellbeing and negatively impact your relationships, so it’s important to find support. Give yourself permission to acknowledge that seeking support and guidance is required.

It can leave you feeling overwhelmed

Most parents will feel anxious during the first few weeks of parenthood. If you have postpartum anxiety, you may experience constant (or near constant) feelings of worry and stress.

You may feel a sense of dread and your behaviour may change. For example, you might avoid certain places, doing certain things or even denying certain feelings because they feel threatening. All these feelings of postpartum anxiety can leave you feeling on edge and overwhelmed.

Postpartum anxiety is very common

Many new parents find it difficult to open up about any worries they’re experiencing. It’s important to remember that postpartum anxiety can happen to anyone and it’s not something that’s your fault.

It’s closely related to postpartum depression

The way both conditions can affect you depends on a range of factors, from your own physical, emotional, and mental health make up to external factors that might be having an impact. Both conditions share similar symptoms, including irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and changes to your mood.

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Postpartum anxiety affects both parents

New dads can become depressed or anxious for many of the same reasons as new mums, such as tiredness, added stress on your relationship, and financial pressures.

Watch out for symptoms – such as feeling sad or hopeless, not wanting to do anything, and finding it difficulty sleeping – in your partner and yourself. Finding it difficult to sleep can of course be natural with the birth of a new baby, however you may find that your thinking is keeping you awake when you should be resting. This can affect both parents. These signs may indicate that you need support. All these symptoms can come on gradually or all at once, too.

You’re more likely to experience anxiety if you’ve had a complicated birth or pregnancy

Whilst postpartum anxiety can affect anyone, you’re at a higher risk if you have a family history of anxiety, you’re under a lot of stress (for example if you’re experiencing financial pressures) and if you’ve had a complicated birth or pregnancy.

Feeling upset or distressed by what happened when you were giving birth can increase your risk of developing any mental health condition. If you are having negative thoughts about childbirth, for whatever reason, you are not alone. Reach out to your doctor or midwife, and talk to your partner about how you’re feeling.

It won’t affect the relationship with your baby

There is no reason to believe that anxiety will impact your relationship with your little one. If you are struggling, reach out for support, as there are lots of treatments available.

It’s also worth remembering that some parents bond with their baby immediately, while others find it takes more time. Try not to place yourself under too much pressure either. One of the most important things you can do with your baby is hold them close and talk to them calmly every day, as often as you can. You may also find it helpful to have skin-to-skin contact, as it can leave both you and your baby feeling at ease.

Recovery time can vary

Whilst the process is different for everyone, a full recovery from postpartum anxiety is possible. The recovery process is very personal, so it’s important to find what works best to ease these feelings. Whether it’s support from your doctor or self-help practice (or a mixture of both), remember that these feelings will pass.

Although it’s tough with a new baby, make time for yourself, prioritise sleep and eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Opening up can ease postpartum anxiety

Although this may be obvious, many people struggle to speak about their feelings, especially when it comes to their mental health.

Let those closest around you know what’s going on, and how you’re feeling. Starting this conversation is an important step in managing postpartum anxiety. It can feel a huge relief to open-up about how you’re feeling.

Try not to focus too much on the future and take it one day at a time. Making a list of the positive things in your life and what you like about yourself. Whilst this may be difficult, try to add to the list every day.

There’s lots of support available

If you think you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety, tell your GP, health visitor or midwife. They won’t judge you – they’re used to helping everyone. They will be focused on getting you the help and support you need to feel better and look after your baby.

If you feel that you can’t look after your baby or are having thoughts that trouble you (including harming yourself or your baby), you need to reach out and get help quickly. Remember – it happens to many new parents, and there is support available for both of you.

Glenys qualified as a Registered Mental Health Nurse in 1985 and has worked in a variety of health and social care settings. Before joining Bupa in 2015 she worked in roles ranging from Staff Nurse and managing therapy services to Head of Social Care (mental health).

Throughout her career she has driven the need to ensure individuals are treated in a holistic and inclusive way, by well experienced and progressive thinking nurses. Central to this is her drive to promote mental health wellbeing, and to support the nursing and advising team in managing the potential complexities and risks of mental health conditions.

Glenys is an ambassador for positive mental wellbeing, driving empowerment and working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

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